Feelings of loss and identity

Loss comes in many forms – the death of someone close to you or the loss of a close relationship,  or something you value, like your job or your home. It is also possible to experience loss around your looks and body image. Although it may seem less obvious to you or others, it is valid and normal to feel this way. There are many studies exploring the feelings of loss experienced by people with a visible difference.

Your experience of this might vary, depending on whether you have had your condition from birth or childhood, or acquired it later in life.

From birth or early childhood

There can be a sense of loss if you were born with a visible difference, or acquired it in early life. This is likely to be a loss of how you imagine life might have been if you didn’t look so different. Some people imagine that life would have been much easier or they would have been more successful or happier. You may find yourself blaming your condition, mark or scar for things in your life that go wrong, or you are unhappy about. You may feel this more intensely in periods of change or difficulty.

Later life

If you acquire your visible difference later in life, you may feel a strong sense of loss of your previous appearance and your internal body image, but this can also affect your identity,  your health, feeling feminine or masculine, or create feelings of a loss of control over your life or your relationships or work. You might be dealing with a loss of function in parts of your body as well, and you might not be able to do things you used to do. You may also be dealing with the trauma of an accident or of surgery. It is common for people to be shocked by their new image when they see themselves for the first time, and for some time after.

Whether in early or later life, there may be some difficult feelings that you have to manage around your appearance. It will take time to adjust. If you have had your visible difference since birth or early life, there will be a time when you start to realise you look different from people around you. In later life you not only need to adjust to looking different from those around you, but also to looking different from ‘you’ as you saw yourself before!

Adjustment takes time, and can be challenging at times, but people can and do successfully adjust to living with a visible difference and live fulfilling lives. See Managing feelings of loss for ways to help with this.

Managing feelings of loss

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Finding out more about your visible difference

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